Turning waste into energy

A wastewater PhD research project being delivered by RMIT University and City West Water is focusing on resource and energy recovery from wastewater produced from trade waste. 

Known as ‘trade waste’, liquid waste from food businesses or industrial customers often requires extra treatment due to a high nutrient load and the occasional presence of contaminants before it can be safely released into the wastewater system.

The research project aims to find ways for City West Water trade waste customers to reduce costs associated with the disposal of organic waste streams and instead use them for nutrient or energy recovery.  

The energy recovery aspect of the project has the added benefit of potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions as part of City West Water’s Emissions Reduction Target commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2025.

The research is led by RMIT PhD student Jake Elliott, who has a double degree in Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology and 3 years’ experience working on trade waste treatment systems. Jake has been granted a full-time scholarship to complete this PhD, half funded by City West Water.

Rachel Meinig, Senior Renewable Futures Engineer at City West Water, says that “the aim of this project is to create a system for classifying trade waste based on its chemical properties, to easily identify which effluent has potential for resource recovery. 

“In the future, this would allow us to provide advice and guidance to customers around resource recovery.”

Andy Ball, RMIT Distinguished Professor and Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for the Transformation of Australia’s Biosolids Resource, added: “Industry-university partnerships such as this provide a great opportunity to PhD students like Jake to undertake research directly addressing industry needs, working alongside industry and gaining vital experience.

“The research carried out by Jake will examine both the biological and technical cycling of waste organics and will assist trade waste customers to move towards a circular economy.”

Jake has targeted his research towards investigating the potential for biogas and nutrient (struvite) recovery from trade waste customer wastewater. Biogas is a renewable energy source which can produce both energy and heat. The nutrients recovered from the wastewater can be re-used as fertiliser.

Jake is currently testing samples from City West Water’s trade waste customers at the RMIT Bundoora campus lab, investigating their potential for biogas and struvite production. 

His initial findings will be sent to City West Water this year, with the research project to continue through to the end of 2023.